Not too young to worry

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, October 5, 2011

By Clarence Foster

The yard of my youth was about 400 yards from the road, in a forest clearing of about 20 acres. Its northwest corner was my special place.

No car tires ever tread there, except during family reunions. Its mown grass look rivaled 20 feet by 30 feet of mown grass anywhere. I once sat in that grassy alcove, on a bright sunny day and mastered the tying of my shoes. I was a little older there, more thoughtful, imbued of an embattled dignity.

The current fascination with the Civil War and the revisionist sentiments offered about, sometimes return me to that special place.

I’ve always assumed a glacial gradualism in black folks rise to freedom. My parents and my uncles and aunts would tell me of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s, and I could see and read for myself in the ‘50s. It was no picnic.

I have a memory of one of those non-picnic days, nervously walking about in my special place, trying to figure out what to do if they came for us. I was maybe 10 or 11 and reacting to some horrendous story I had read in the Norfolk Journal and Guide. Every week or so, we’d be apprised of yet another non-picnic outrage. I finally settled, in a young boy’s dramatic fashion, on trying to reach the FBI. Only to learn, years later, in the Martin Luther King disclosures, that even they were suspect.

Now, in my thoughts on that gradualism, I have always assumed (and there’s plenty of written history) that slavery was worse. You wouldn’t know it from the revisionist. — Hey, that madman,

Turner just up and went-off. — And then the breathtaking: You can’t expect slavery to end overnight.

I must say that I don’t know of any horrendous acts of racial terrorism within Southampton County, within my lifetime. And given all that I would hear and read, I count that as a kind of blessing. Nonetheless, a tragic history and a residual undercurrent of menace, that, more or less, worked its will.

One of the national newspapers reported recently that between 1915 and 1970 some six million black folks migrated north. Once or twice, since I moved back (seven years ago) from New York, and been in one of these new world conversations with a white person, I’ve been asked why I ever moved to New York. I am sure that any casual onlooker must have marveled at our opposing looks of incredulity.

There is no question that integration has worked its magic. Looking over time, it was more so an effort against that state of menace than anything else. If you couldn’t beat ‘em, or more to the point, if you couldn’t stop ‘em from beating you, join ‘em.

In my view, the strictly educational benefits from integration accrued mainly to our higher wage earners. Many of our schools simply didn’t have the higher, more specialized mathematics and sciences. But for everyone else, perhaps, those below today’s $60,000, I tend to question any purely educational gain.

I think the integration of schools and the difficulties in disciplining across racial lines (exploited and intensified by the self-serving — of all colors) diminished, indeed demoralized teachers, shattering that legendary command; and, in the confusion, scattering the communal force of in loco parentis. For better, or for worse and I believe worse the parents took over. And here we are!

It’s all interwoven. No integration of schools, and no integration of the work place, the malls, the fairgrounds, the presidency, life. Forty-year-olds actually know each other. They talk [ A mere generation from the menacing Jim Crow-ism “— acting familiar — Humiliations, not easily recalled, yet worth reminding.] And from the new world. After all.

CLARENCE FOSTER is a resident of Southampton County and graduated from Hayden High School in 1963.